GAWU willing to end weekly strike, amid threats to scrap talks and stop crop

Last Updated on Wednesday, 2 March 2016, 18:08 by Denis Chabrol

Amid a decision by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) to call of all talks with the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and possibly scrap the first crop if a one-day strike continues, the union Wednesday said it would call off the industrial action if there is a “reasonable time-frame” for the holding of long-overdue wage and salary negotiations.

“The Corporation wishes to make it abundantly clear that there will be no further meetings/dialogue with the union whilst the one day per week protest action is maintained,” Guysuco said in a statement.

The state-owned sugar producer further stated that if the one day per week stoppage is found to be aggravating the financial position of Corporation, “the crop will be stopped and will not resume until an assurance is given by the union that this stoppage will cease.”

Reacting to the threats, GAWU President, Komal Chand assured that his union would call off the weekly strike if Guysuco states in writing a “reasonable time-frame” within which wage and salary negotiations would begin. “Once we have a time-frame by which they will meet us then certainly there will be no need for any continued protest on this matter,” he said. “You rest assured that once that is obtained there would be no reason for the union to hold on to the decision to have a one-day protest,” he said.

He lamented that Guysuco has been stringing along GAWU since October, 2015 first saying that pay talks would commence after the government considers the Sugar Industry Commission of Inquiry Report and more recently-up to Tuesday March 2, 2016- that the corporation was awaiting a mandate, presumably from government.

The GAWU President charged that Guysuco was contradicting itself about the effectiveness of the strike because on the one hand it was claiming that the unrest was affecting production and on the other hand saying that there was “verifiable evidence” of GAWU’s executive threatening their own field representatives who have been reluctant to comply with directions to call workers out on strike.  Chand said it was quite normal, as had been the case in the 1999 public servants, for union executives and branch officials to be seen encouraging rank and file workers to join the strike call.

“ If in fact there is any threat perceived by GAWU it is to its waning influence on the workers, who are increasingly standing up to be counted on their own behalf,” Guysuco said.

But GAWU lashed back, saying that if the strike was ineffective and the union was no longer demonstrating leadership then the company had no need to be worried. “If the workers and reluctant and they don’t want to strike, then why are they worried?, he queried.

Guysuco used the opportunity in its statement on Wednesday to restate that it could not afford to pay higher wages. Figures released by the corporation show that in 2015, it generated G$18.4 Billion as total revenue, whilst its employment cost was G$21.6Billion which is 17% above that of revenue.

The Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle has already declared a deadlock and recommended that Guysuco and GAWU move to arbitration for an increase in Annual Production Incentive (API).

Top officials of Guysuco met the union’s  leadership, including Field Officers, Branch Chairmen and Secretaries of all estates. The Union was reminded of the established protocols that must be adhered to in regards to the function of both the Management and Union officers in a continued effort to sustain the existing relationship.